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I recently assigned another project. I’m so pleased with how much effort the majority of my students put into their learning. This time they’re convincing their classmates to join them in volunteering for their selected service organization. The assessment comes from the textbook’s website, but I’ve tweaked it, as usual, to suit my students.

While working on this project last Thursday, a couple of sets of students asked for a pass to the library so they could research their organizations on the school computers. I sent them on their way. In the time it took them to walk to the library, another group whipped out an iPhone and began investigating their organization immediately. No muss, and no fuss from me. If all of my students had a device with that ability, which many do, I’d never have to reserve a lab again.

Last week in class a student was texting during a partner activity. Half-joking, I asked her if she was phoning a friend for help. She was! She was doing the same thing I do when I don’t know how to say something in Spanish–I text or email a native speaker for immediate clarification.

I use cell phones sporadically in class. For a warm-up I’ll post a question on Poll Everywhere that students answer as they come in. A couple of weeks ago I posted the survey on Twitter where other teachers and Spanish speakers respond, which created several authentic models for students to see.

I know that there is a clear divide between those of us who prohibit cell phones in class and others who embrace them. Part of my job as a parent and teacher is overtly teaching when and how to use cell phones for good. I currently have an extra credit assignment posted on my wiki (inspired by Sherry Amorocho) that encourages students to use the camera in their cell phone (or a digital camera) to photograph vocabulary words. I can’t wait to see how many take me up on the offer.

By the way, if you’re in the Loveland area next month, don’t miss Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation where Noah Geisel will be leading a session on Cell Phone Solutions.

For my Spanish 3 IB class I have created a theme around social issues, including immigration. In Spanish 2, students watch the film La misma luna and and answer questions related to it. The movie is also a good starting point for a discussion surrounding immigration and the issues that face people who leave their homeland. I think that the IB class is a good place to further explore the human side of this topic. They’re mature enough and open to discussing controversial this more than my other classes may be.

I introduce the topic with the short film Schwarzfahrer (literally “Black Rider” but also the term for someone riding without a ticket). Even though it is in German, it is a great vehicle for discussion. Students discuss (in Spanish) the use of black and white film, the year the film was made and its relevance today, who the Schwarzfahrer is, the various people and their reactions (or lack thereof) on the bus. I love hearing the students analyze the film. They notice things that I don’t and ask great questions.

After discussing the film, we listen to the song “Mojado” by Ricardo Arjona. (I usually have to fight tears in the opening verse because the lyrics and music are so heartbreaking.) Again, I have a series of questions designed to promote conversation–what do certain phrases imply, why does he refer to “Neptuno,” etc. We also work on new vocabulary that I take from the song.

The last piece that I bring in is the chapter from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street called “Geraldo No Last Name” or “Geraldo sin apellido” in Spanish version. To introduce the literature, I show a photo from 9/11 of victims’ shoes lined up along the street to discuss the uncounted victims of that day. Students may not realize that many people who were killed in the attacks were undocumented workers and therefore uncounted in the death totals. I tie this in with the chapter about Geraldo, who has no papers and dies in an accident. I use a good-old KWL sheet to generate questions surrounding Geraldo’s life and have several of my own questions.

To wrap up the unit, students are going to design a project related to a social issue. In the past I asked them to find a  song that spoke to them related to an issue. I want them to be more creative this year and produce something of their own.

Over the past few years I have implemented project-based assessments in every level of Spanish that I teach. I think that I have come up with some great ideas, but after reading Apple’s Challenge Based Learning white paper and working through three days of IB MYP training I need to work on being more systematic in presenting the project. To use a colleague’s words, I need to unpack the assignment before I hand it to my students. When I have laid out the steps for my students, they have been more confident in their approach and successful in producing their final product.

Over the past week I have been revising old project-based assessments that my colleagues and I will assign this year. I prefer these types assessments to traditional exams for a number of reasons. One, they are authentic by design. Students may one day have a job where they have to create a multi-media presentation on a given topic. One project that I have planned for September involves students creating a presentation about a Spanish-speaking country. Their presentation can take any form that the students see fit. Their audience is potential study abroad candidates. Students will brainstorm, collaborate, create and share their ideas and projects.

Another benefit of project-based assessments is that students have the unique opportunity to take what they know and love, whether it’s music, technology, or art, meld it with what they are acquiring in Spanish class and then produce an authentic product. I love to see kids shine and project-based assessments afford them this chance.

Click to read my Don Quixote assignment and hear an amazing project from one of my students from last spring.

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